The U.S. Postal Service has honored the legendary sculptor Edmonia Lewis with its latest stamp in the Black Heritage Series. 

Lewis, the first African-American and Native American sculptor to earn international recognition, took her place as the 45th honoree in the series with stamp art featuring a portrait of Lewis based on a photograph by Augustus Marshall made in Boston between 1854 and 1871.

“Edmonia Lewis was a woman of great courage, talent and perseverance who broke through gender, race and class barriers,” said Dr. Joshua D. Colin, the Postal Service’s chief retail and delivery officer, who served as the dedicating official. 

“The Postal Service is proud to honor this great American sculptor with a beautiful commemorative Forever stamp.”

Who Was Edmonia Lewis?

Lewis, known by an Ojibwe name that translated into English as Wildfire, made and sold crafts for tourists for part of her childhood when she lived with her aunts near Niagara Falls, N.Y. 

Many details of Lewis’s early life remain unclear and Lewis herself cultivated a deliberate air of mystery about her upbringing, wrote the U.S. Postal Service. 

Her brother, a successful entrepreneur, appears to have funded her education – a rare opportunity for a young American woman in the 1850s. 

Lewis created her earliest known work of the muse Urania at Oberlin College in Ohio.

In Boston in the early 1860s, she sculpted clay, plaster and marble busts and medallion portraits of famous men and women. She exhibited and sold plaster-cast replicas at public events. In 1865, Lewis sailed for Europe and settled in Rome where she created marble neoclassical sculptures that often incorporated African-American and Native American subjects. 

A Roman Catholic, she also made numerous religious sculptures and took commissions for sculptures for churches in Baltimore and Scotland. At the time, her studio became a must-see attraction for American tourists. 

She continued to sculpt busts of prominent Americans who visited Rome in the 1870s and 1880s and she frequently returned to the United States to exhibit and sell her work.

With more attention to Lewis’s life and career in recent decades, previously unlocated or unknown works have come to light and she has become more widely represented in museums and private collections. 

“As the public continues to discover the beautiful subtleties of Lewis’s work, scholars will further interpret her role in American art and the ways she explored, affirmed or de-emphasized her complex cultural identity to meet or expand the artistic expectations of her day,” wrote the U.S. Postal Service. 

The Edmonia Lewis Forever pane of stamps can be purchased at U.S. Post Office locations nationwide.

The stamps are being shared with the hashtags #Edmonia Lewis and #BlackHeritageStamps.

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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